Sheetz made several alterations to its stores to help keep both their customers and employees safe during the COVID-19 crisis. They launched the new “SHcan & Go” program using their app, made special parking spots for curbside pickups, put disposable gloves at their gas pumps, painted six feet markers on the floors and require customers to wear masks. (Photos by Julie Rae Rickard)
Keeping stores cleaned and sanitized is difficult for any business during the COVID-19 crisis.
For a convenience store chain like Sheetz, which remains open 24 hours a day, it is a never-ending process.
Overall, the chain has 601 stores in six states and 21,000 employees with 10,000 of these in Pennsylvania.
With a business this large, its reaction to the crisis required careful planning.
“We tried to be as proactive as possible,” Sheetz Public Relations Manager Nick Ruffner said, as they quickly worked out a procedure for the chain.
“We wanted to have an upfront conversation with our employees and customers.”
In March, Travis Sheetz, president and chief operating officer of the company based in Altoona, released a letter to their customers.
“In addition to continuing with our routine cleaning procedures, we have added hours to our daily schedule dedicated to cleaning and sanitizing our stores.
“This effort is focused on high-touch surface areas such as gas pumps, touch-screen order points, counter tops, door handles, cash registers, credit machines and ATMs,” Sheetz said.
The Sheetz stores were perhaps better prepared to adapt to the “new normal” because the technology with their app gives customers a chance to order online, pay and then pick up their Made to Order items near the counter and leave without interacting with anyone.
In April, the chain started its contactless “SHcan & Go” program.
This allows customers to use a cell phone to scan products in the store and then submit a virtual payment through a credit/debt/gift card meaning you can skip lines all together.
“We are trying to increase customer convenience,” Ruffner said.
For a chain this large, with stores in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina, it was inevitable that at some point an employee would test positive for the virus.
When it happened, the stores were closed and were “professionally deep cleaned, sanitized and disinfected,” before re-opening according to published reports.
This “deep cleaning” included not only the stores, but the gas pumps as well.
On average, the stores impacted were closed only about 24 hours, according to Ruffner.
The stores were re-opened in phases, with the gas and convenience items available first and the made to order food added later.
The virus hit at least one store in all six states, Ruffner said.
The employees were paid while the store was closed and those who had been in contact with the infected employee were quarantined.
In a few cases in which the employee found to be infected had not worked for two or more weeks, the stores did not close, but press releases on the situation confirmed they were continuing to regularly clean the store using the newly-established guidelines.
To support their employees during this difficult time, they increased their wages by $3 an hour through June.
The latest side effect of the virus hitting the stores now is a nation-wide coin shortage.
“It is not an emergency, but it is an opportunity to be pro-active.”
Sheetz is encouraging customers to use debit or credit cards but if a customer uses cash and needs change, they are given the option of donating it to the Sheetz for the Kidz charity.
This solution seemed simple since July is one of the months that Sheetz fundraise for its charity, which provides area children “new toys, clothes and other basic needs.”
Normally customers would have an opportunity to donate their change in one of the donation cans at the counter.
Sheetz is a company that is known to be charitable to its communities.
During the ongoing pandemic, they stepped up to provide daily meals to children with their Kidz Meal Bagz program in April.
When it ended in June, it was estimated that they served 600,000 free meals, according to news on the company’s Web site.
The company also donated $620,000 to Feeding America and plans to continue to give to local food banks.
Sheetz stores started with Bob Sheetz purchasing five of his father’s dairy stores in 1952 in Altoona, according to the Web site.
In 1963, they opened their first “Sheetz Kwik Shopper” store.
Since that time, the company has grown and adapted to ever-changing circumstances and there is no indication that they will be slowing down anytime soon.